Platform: PS Vita [PSN, £34.99]
Publisher: Namco Bandai (Europe)
Earth Defense Force 2017 is stupidly brilliant. Or brilliantly stupid. Or both. When it released on Xbox 360 back in 2007, this cut-price cult classic managed to capture our imaginations in ways that any number of AAA titans failed to do. As a member of the titular EDF (EDF! EDF!), it was up to us to annihilate the alien hordes with massive guns and destroy entire cities in the process. It was like playing a low-budget Japanese monster flick, complete with giant ants, massive robots, mecha-dinosaurs and hilariously poor voice acting, so even when it was awful we were having far too much fun to notice.
It makes even more sense on the PS Vita. This new portable version includes some extra weapons, a brand new playable character, online multiplayer and a performance boost. Better yet, the short replayable levels are a perfect fit for a handheld console.
But can it possibly be worth £35?
As you'd expect from a B-Movie or creature feature, the premise is certifiably dumb. Aliens have come to Earth and humanity has fielded an enormous army just in case they don't turn out to be friendly. Surely an alien species called "The Ravagers" will be willing to give peace a chance... right? Following this comical lack of judgement, the Ravagers live up to their nickname by deploying huge hordes of science fiction cliches and the EDF steps in to wipe them off the face of the planet.
In gameplay terms, this boils down to getting dumped into the middle of an enormous urban or rural map with a few squadmates and a staggeringly vast force of ridiculous things to shoot. You'll face off against a cavalcade of stereotypical monster movie enemies; everything from giant spiders to teetering silver robots (armed with ray guns, of course), shiny flying saucers and the occasional mecha-dragon the size of a skyscraper.
Then you'll kill them all with an enormous selection of weapons or die trying.
Each of the sixty levels only lasts between five and fifteen minutes, and the action is as basic as you could possibly imagine, but Earth Defense Force 2017 succeeds because it's so much fun. Every building, no matter how tall, crumbles into dust if hit by even a single explosive. The raw thrill of battling against humongous odds in truly enormous environments, pouring automatic firepower onto oncoming waves of enemies that block out the horizon and being rewarded by enormous gouts of gore and bouncing corpses, is compelling beyond words. The action is so outrageously intense that you'll barely notice the complete lack of enemy intelligence, broken vehicle handling, poor signposting, disingenuous mission objectives, drab texture work, primitive animations, constant knockdown attacks and total lack of variety. It's objectively terrible... terrible like a fox.
If you're a fan of Starship Troopers and Godzilla, this is basically your wildest fantasy made on a shoestring budget.
What really elevates EDF 2017 is its approach to squadmates. Though friendly troops are incredibly squishy and equally idiotic, they're very talkative and organised into discrete fireteams with a leader in command. Every so often, the squad leader will bark out a particularly rousing epithet, at which point his squadmates will bark or chant back a response (usually "EDF! EDF!" or the always-popular "yeeeaaaaaarrrgh!"). They'll also spout volumes of badly translated and horrendously-acted rubbish, yet the voice work is so earnest and intentionally cheesy that you can't help but fall in love with the whole thing. Should a squad leader fall, you can also assume command and eventually lead a massive gaggle of babbling fellow troopers into glorious battle. Sure, it's a substitute for competent AI, but I almost prefer it.
Fun factor aside, EDF 2017's replayability stems from persistently acquiring new weapons and gradually completing the five unique difficulty modes. Enemies frequently drop health upgrades that give your soldier a permanent extra hit point or one of more than 150 weapons to use in combat. Assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, rockets homing missiles and epic alien tech is all up for grabs, gradually allowing you to tackle the harder levels on higher difficulty settings. Brilliantly, the Portable version brings even more guns to the table, with all-new heavier armaments and tools that handle very differently from the original arsenal.
Speaking of new content, EDF 2017 Portable's star attraction is the Pale Wing flying soldier, an airborne female trooper who predictably wears stockings as part of her battle dress. Her new weapons and unique fighting style is a real breath of fresh air for existing fans, so it's a crying shame that you'll have to complete every single mission to unlock her. We may never know why Sandlot decided to hide away one of the most important new additions behind such an inordinate amount of grind.
In contrast, the new online multiplayer suite is as easy to access as possible. Finding or creating lobbies is a snap, as is tailoring them to specific skill levels, and the netcode is relatively solid. Four-player cooperative battles are probably one of the most uncomplicated multiplayer experiences on Sony's handheld, and easily one of the most enjoyable.
Earth Defense Force 2017 has also apparently received a visual overhaul, which you won't notice immediately. Despite the smaller screen, EDF 2017 Portable looks worse than the original from a graphical standpoint, offering jaggies and low-resolution textures in abundance. It also lacks the gorgeously lustrous reflective surfaces of its predecessor, which really helped the UFOs and robotic units to stand out. On the flip-side, performance has been massively enhanced, with much less in the way of slowdown even in the most hectic engagements. I personally feel that this is a fair trade for a handheld game.
I wish I could recommend Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable. I want to give it a big fat score, play it with you in multiplayer and scream about it from the rooftops. Sadly, though, there's just no getting over that price point. In all seriousness, I can't actually wrap my brain around the sheer arrogance and hubris required to charge nearly double what the original game cost five years ago, the unbridled greed behind this transparent effort to chisel as much cash as possible from dedicated fans who'll pay regardless. It's daylight robbery, and frankly disgusting. As a niche downloadable port, this should have been inexpensive enough to be an impulse purchase for players seeking online multiplayer experiences, not priced completely out of the market.
There's not enough new or improved content to warrant this outrageous sum, and nowhere near enough polish in either the gameplay or graphics department. We were willing -even delighted - to ignore its numerous flaws as a budget game, but now, we have to compare it to the biggest and best full price AAA games in terms of quality. And find it wanting. If Earth Defense Force slips back into ignominy because gamers aren't excited about the incoming 2013 sequel, D3 Publisher and Namco Bandai only have themselves to blame.
- Properly insane old-school action with B-Movie enemies and compelling persistent upgrades
- Surprisingly solid online multiplayer, great on Vita
- Loads of missions and weapons
- New Pale Wing trooper is good fun for series fans...
- ... once you grind forever to unlock her
- Unforgivably greedy RRP
- Terrible in countless ways that didn't matter as a budget game (but do now)
The Short Version: Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable is as terrible and brilliant as it ever was, and feels more at home on the Vita than it did on the Xbox 360. Insane pick up and play action makes it a perfect fit for bug hunting on the move, while the new guns, (inexplicably locked) Pale Wing and solid multiplayer will delight existing fans.
At the ridiculous price of £35, however, it doesn't deserve to sell even a single copy. Utterly heartbreaking, at least until a sale or permanent discount comes along.